Few people watch the Kentucky Derby for the race. They want to see if history will be made, with a Triple Crown horse emerging.
It has been almost 36 years since Affirmed won the Belmont Stakes to take the Triple Crown. Since then, there have been 12 horses to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only to lose at Belmont. This year, it is a horse from the West Coast that has everyone buzzing, but there is plenty of talent hitting the right stride in time for the Run for the Roses.
This year's field is deep, and after favorite California Chrome it could be any horse to win, including New York locals Wicked Strong and Samraat. Both have shown well this spring at Aqueduct and could be primed for a finish in the money at famed Churchill Downs.
For most of the entries in this field, the derby can be a spooky experience: The large crowd buzzing, the flash of tens of thousands of cameras, a different track and strange surroundings can unnerve even a calm horse. Plus, the 1 1/4-mile dirt track is the longest trip any of these horses have taken, meaning a speed horse that can't close could be left without a bed of roses.
California Chrome (5-2) – No horse from the Golden State has won the Kentucky Derby since 1962, but there's plenty of shine to this entry. Winner of his last four starts, including the April 5 Santa Anita Derby against Hoppertunity and Candy Boy, also in the field on Saturday, California Chrome is physically impressive with a long gait and good speed. Had an impressive breeze this past weekend and could be peaking at the right time.
Danza (10-1) – Trainer Todd Pletcher has a horse that could show everyone who's the boss at Churchill Downs. With two wins in four starts, Danza runs consistently in the top three but may not have enough speed to compete with California Chrome. Still, if the favorite gets stuck, this horse can churn out a result, as was done in mid-April at the Arkansas Derby. Danza rode the rail from the gate in that Grade 1 stakes race three weeks ago, blowing past the small field to win by five lengths.
Wicked Strong (8-1) – Fresh off a win over Samraat and Social Inclusion in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Wicked Strong is capable of a great trip or a rather ordinary one. While he's coming off a strong finish in his two prior races prior to the Wood, he placed outside of the money both times. Has good closing speed at the final turn and will be listed as a favorite but perhaps shouldn't be one – just not a proven winner.
Vicar's in Trouble (30-1) – There are some things to like about this horse, including five finishes in the money in as many starts dating back to October, but there should be caution here as those three wins came against lesser competition. Yet in an impressive Louisiana Derby win in late March, Vicar's in Trouble took the lead from the first turn to win by nearly five lengths. This is a horse that could be peaking at the right time and could be ready for the longest race of his career.
Can make a run
Dance with Fate (20-1) – He put up a tremendous push at the Blue Grass Stakes a couple weeks ago, coming from the back of the pack to make a wide run. At this distance, he could be an intriguing pick given the length of the race. Keep in mind that speed horses struggle in the Triple Crown, as endurance is key.
Wildcat Red (15-1) – He always runs in the money, but a loss by a nose at the Florida Derby showed this horse can't go gate to post. He faded with a hard-charging Constitution pressing on. But he can be an interesting pick for the superfecta. He's good enough to be here, not good enough to win.
Intense Holiday (12-1) – He has run in six straight graded stakes races and never finished worse than fifth. He would have to run his best for a similar result.
Samraat (15-1) – Samraat, who has done well at Aqueduct, is coming off a disappointing second at the Wood Memorial. If he is near the leaders at the final turn, he can make a late push, but he will have to time it just right.
Tapiture (15-1) – Coming off a weak fourth-place showing at the Arkansas Derby, this is a tough class for this horse, who has never won a race against any of the entrants in this field.
Candy Boy (20-1) – This is another proven horse from the California circuit, but he just does not have enough high-end speed. He came in third behind California Chrome and Hoppertunity at the Santa Anita Derby.
Chitu (20-1) – Three wins in his last four races looks promising, but that was against weak competition. A balanced field like this means a top-half finish would be a good stepping stone.
General A Rod (15-1) – He beat Wildcat Red at Gulfstream on New Year's Day, but since then has struggled. He needs to find a rhythm and will need to run a perfect race.
Ride on Curlin (15-1) – He looked strong along the rail in Arkansas a few weeks ago, coming in second. He needs a bit more speed here but this horse is fearless.
Medal Count (20-1) – He's had sporadic finishes, though a recent second at the Blue Grass was a boost. Still needs too much to go right.
We Miss Artie (50-1) – He ran a distant eighth to Wildcat Red in February's Fountain of Youth, but rebounded well in March with a graded stakes win. He'll need to make a huge leap to finish in the top four here.
Uncle Sigh (30-1) – Intriguing odds but a disappointing fifth at the Wood Memorial showed some flaws for the horse as he ran middle of the pack the whole way after a slow start. Hope for better, just not with your wallet.
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.